On July 3, 1901, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, white laborer John Edwards was murdered in his home. Edwards had spent the evening drinking beer at his house and was last seen alive by some of his young children, who reported that he had been lying in a drunken stupor on his porch. Some time during the night, he was hit on the head many times with a blunt object and then thrown into a cistern. The theory of the prosecution was that John Edwards’ wife, Kate Edwards, and her lover, an African-American man named Samuel Greason, had killed John Edwards. Greason worked with John Edwards in a stone quarry and knew the Edwards family well. Kate Edwards was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, and the State theorized that she was fearful of her husband’s wrath if she were to give birth to a biracial baby.
Kate Edwards was charged with her husband’s murder and her trial began in September 1901. In addition to her daughter’s testimony regarding Kate burying her bloody clothing after John Edwards’s death, the prosecution called Samuel Greason as a witness. Greason admitted that he would often visit the Edwards home on Saturday evenings to drink with them, and that he and Kate had been intimate on those evenings after John Edwards had passed out. He also testified that Kate had written a letter to him suggesting that he come visit soon, at which time they could “get the old man drunk and then throw him into the cistern.” He stated that Kate frequently complained to him about her husband, and had said they had not lived as husband and wife for over a year. Kate Edwards was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Before her trial, Kate Edwards gave birth in prison to a dark-skinned baby girl, whom she named Alma. For many years to come, Alma would live in jail with her mother.
Following Kate Edwards’ conviction, Greason was tried on the theory that he had been her accomplice in the murder of her husband. At Greason’s trial, Kate Edwards testified that Greason had been the one to actually kill her husband, and that the two of them had then taken his body to the cistern together. On December 20, 1901, Greason was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, Greason’s conviction was affirmed. Ten times, Greason had the date set for his execution, only to have it delayed each time.
In February 1905, on the day before Greason was to be executed, Kate Edwards formally recanted the testimony in which she claimed Greason had killed her husband. She admitted Greason had not been involved and that she alone had committed the murder. Based on this recantation, Greason was granted a new trial and, on June 16, 1905, was acquitted.
Kate Edwards gathered many supporters over the years and was never executed, but rather, on February 26, 1914, was granted a pardon by Governor John K. Tener.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.